Without realizing it, the Edmonton Oilers pulled off a tour de force on Tuesday, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2.
They did indeed win despite the fact that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were shut out of the scoresheet. No goal, no assist for the two forwards who are respectively first and second in points this season in the NHL.
The last time the Oilers had won a game without the contest of men 97 and 29? We must go back to the painful time when Jakub Jerabek, Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner formed half of the Canadiens’ defense: it was November 28, 2017.
Since that time, the Oilers have played 225 games. McDavid has been shut down 48 times, Draisaitl 61 times. On 28 occasions, both have been shut out in the same game. Result: 28 defeats.
“These are two key players on our team who play in attacking situations. It says a lot about the impact they have in each game. Most evenings they are going to get points. We’re talking about a small percentage of games where they don’t have one, and in those cases, the rest of the team takes over, ”Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said via videoconference. Wednesday morning, on the eve of the duel against the Canadiens at the Bell Center.
Badly distributed minutes
According to what we hear in well connected hockey circles, the CH would have improved its depth this season. In Edmonton, the Oilers have been chasing that damn depth for years, and the stat above speaks volumes.
The Oilers are hopeful this year will be a good one. When the Habs went to Alberta last month, Alex Chiasson assured that there was an improvement this season.
However, this supposedly better depth does not yet appear in the marker column. Want another crazy statistic? Between them, McDavid and Draisaitl have 52 points this season. The 15 other forwards the Oilers have used so far: 52 points too.
The contrast between the two teams that will face each other on Thursday evening is striking (statistics before Wednesday’s games).
However, Tippett persists and signs: the talent is better distributed within his group of attackers.
“I prefer our depth this year. You have to remember that Connor and Leon are taking a big chunk of the power play. So our secondary production is less than it should be. Normally, your side production players have time on the power play, but these guys (McDavid and Draisaitl) play 1:40, 1:45 on the power play, so the rest of them have less time. That said, we have players who can produce, and defense is part of our offense. We are further ahead than last year, but we want to be a balanced team. This is how you become a good team. ”
In short, the Oilers have more depth, but not to the point of depriving their best players of precious minutes on the power play, a decision that can be defended when you know the talent of the players concerned.
McDavid (5:06 per game), Draisaitl (5:10) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (5:12) are indeed the three most used power-play forwards in the NHL this season. Under the circumstances, Tippett is therefore moderating his expectations regarding the production of the other nine forwards in uniform.
“Secondary production is very important. Connor and Leon take some of that responsibility away from us, the players of the last two lines, said forward Josh Archibald. They facilitate our work, but we must also facilitate theirs. They won’t get three or four points every night, although we would like that. The last two lines must also give a boost and we have done it in recent games. We are also able to score. ”
The Oilers, however, get an unexpected contribution from their defense, as Tippett mentioned. Thus, in the victory in Ottawa, the three goals were scored by defensemen: Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard and Tyson Barrie.
The Alberta squad hasn’t exactly been spoiled in terms of offensive defensemen since, say, Janne Niinimaa’s heyday. In the past 10 years, only Nurse (41 points in 2018-2019) has crossed the 40 point mark.
But so far, Tippett’s defenders have totaled 11 goals, as many as those of the Habs (who have played three games less). The Oilers also have two of the NHL’s 10 most productive defensemen this season, Nurse and Barrie, tied for 11 points.
Their production makes it possible to forget the absence of Oscar Klefbom, lost for the season.
When Guy Lafleur hurt Dave Tippett
Behind his somewhat gruff appearance, Dave Tippett remains a coach who was good to talk to after training, when the scrums were in person. Video conferences are a lot less user-friendly than the media briefings of yore could be, but Tippett opened up when a fellow Edmonton colleague asked him about his memories of Montreal as a player. Tippett could have taken refuge in the empty formulas about the ghosts of the Forum, but instead he told a good story starring Guy Lafleur.
“The Old Forum was an amazing place to play,” Tippett said. It must have been my first or second game at the Forum, when I was playing for the Whalers. I had arrived early for morning practice, I was there just watching the ice and Guy Lafleur arrived early, he was practicing his shots on reception on the opposite side, for the power play. He was pulling all the pucks just below the horizontal bar. I was then used on the penalty kill, I watched him go and I was like: “I’m going to have to block these shots tonight!” The game comes, and from their first power play, I see him shoot and he hits me right on the toe! I said to him: “I looked at you this morning, you shot 50 pucks under the horizontal bar and there, you shoot me on the toe? It’s the first time that you shoot low!” It broke my skate. ”
For the record, the game was probably played on March 8, 1984, because it was the only time Tippett played in Montreal before Lafleur’s first retirement. CH had won 3-2, thanks to a brace from Perry Turnbull. It was also the first of Chris Chelios’ 1651 games in the NHL …
Now two guards!
The Oilers hailed Mike Smith’s return to play on Monday. Mikko Koskinen had previously had Stuart Skinner as an auxiliary, but the latter remains young and inexperienced, and has only got one start. Koskinen is thus first in the NHL this season with 13 starts, which is not good news when the goalie in question is averaging 3.43 and efficiency of .895.
“It’s a big factor and last year our two goalies played better when they went their separate ways,” Tippett said. Smith’s return will ensure that our two goalies will be better rested. We needed stops at the right times and Koskinen made them on Tuesday. Tippett did not disclose who would be his goalie on Thursday.
Are they better?
The $ 1,000 question now is whether the Oilers will look better this time around than when the Habs visited last month. Montreal then signed victories of 5-1 and 3-1. “We’re playing better now than we were then,” said Tippett.
Since then, the Oilers have indeed been 7-4-0, but beware: four of those wins have come at the expense of the Ottawa Senators, who occupy the 31e rank of the general classification. Note that that did not prevent Ottawa from giving quite an opposition to the CH in recent days …